nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Crack is wack

R has been nagging me to write about this place we visited before Christmas. If you look at a map of Manhattan and look towards the top of the island on the right hand side you will see a small square of green and the title ‘Crack is Wack playground’. Now that doesn’t necessarily make you want to visit, but being nosey Brits, we went and had a look.

Basically it’s a couple of basket ball courts with a huge concrete wall stuck in the middle, separating the two areas. On each side is a mural done by Keith Haring, he of the funky men and bright colourful paintings. He painted the mural in 1986 to “call attention to the damage drugs can inflict on community welfare” (says the NY Parks Dept website). Haring died four years later at the very young age of 32.

The mural has somehow survived, it’s been painted over and brightened up over the years, but even now it stands the test of time. I love the shadow of the tree on this photograph of one side of the mural.  I don’t have a good photo of the other side, so have a look at NYC Parks website instead.


I shall miss all this exploring and discovering the less well known parts of New York.

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Creepy guy

I took J to a different playground in Central Park today. It’s quite normal for an early morning playground to be pretty empty with just a few nannies and even less mummies. So when a middle aged man decides to come into the playground without a child and sit on a bench with his mobile phone it’s no surprise that I was a bit suspicious.

I kept my eye on him for ten minutes and as we naturally went near him, I asked him what he was doing there and pointed out the regulations nearby that say adults must be accompanied by children under 12. He was not happy at being asked and said ‘ooo, creepy’.

Then he starts getting all offended, saying he was waiting for friend who has a child. I said OK, but it is unusual for a man to be on his own in the playground. At which point, I expected him to be entirely understanding and for the conversation to end. But no, he gets up in a huff and says that he will wait outside. He is affronted that I confronted him. He then continues to mutter loudly, but I am too far away and cannot hear, but it’s clearly directed at me.

He’s offended. Really? Is he completely unaware? Did he not see every woman in the playground giving him a concerned look as they kept their kids away?

Interesting that when we left to go to another playground about 20 minutes later, he was still outside the playground having animated conversations (presumably with someone) on his mobile phone. No friend with child  in sight. An ordinary guy with a tardy friend or something more sinister? You decide, but for me, leaving that playground was the best thing to do. Creepy guy indeed.

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NW3 in NYC?

view from Brooklyn


Yes, it’s all about the B boroughs at the moment. Today we went to Brooklyn to Pier 6 to use its amazing water park and playgrounds. The photo above is taken from pier in Brooklyn looking over the East River to the tip of Manhattan. You can see One World Trade Center poking out high in the middle.

It’s a beautiful day today, around 31 degrees and perfect for a water park. Whoever is developing Brooklyn’s water line is doing a good job, this is the best kids water area I’ve seen so far and it’s completely free. But of course with free comes crowds. So many kids all having a fabulous time. Overall everyone is very well behaved and even the locusts from the camps are doing OK. J and E both enjoy it enormously in their own ways. I seek out shade and keep a watchful eye on the ever adventurous J. We only linger briefly in the slide playground as it’s just too hot and the slides are roasting. Check out the pictures on the Brooklyn Bridge Park website.

We pack a picnic and eat that watching the waterline: the Staten Island Ferry making its orange way across the water; the helicopters whirring around like wasps as they visit the Statue of Liberty; and the footballers playing in the midday sun on Pier 5.

And the greatest revelation was the walk from the subway. We get out at Borough Hall, the first stop in Brooklyn on the 4 and 5 line and walk down Joralemon Street. I was expecting industrial, faceless boring buildings. But no. It was beautiful. A quiet, sometimes even cobbled street, with tall townhouses in immaculate condition. Colourful flowers in pots everywhere and even a babbling pond with a frog! I was not expecting to find some fake NW3 in this part of NYC. It’s just lovely.

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Where have all the kids gone?

I probably mentioned this last summer, but I’m still surprised at how incredibly long US school summer holidays are, with private schools coming in at around 12 weeks. So from mid June to early September parents are expected to deal with their kids. Frankly I find this a bit terrifying coming from a country where summer holidays are 6 weeks long and in fact most state schools in the UK started their break today.

Here there is camp. I had seen various incarnations of camp in US films throughout the 80s and 90s with the infamous Band Camp from American Pie being the one that mostly comes to mind. Pretty much every kid here goes to camp. There are so many to choose from, with most large institutions like the Met, Guggenheim and Natural History Museum doing them and they are so popular they sell out months in advance. Most private schools have some kind of offering too. There are masses of sports camps run by leisure centres and other organisations. In Central Park you can’t help but trip over a camper or two, there are so many around.

As a mother of a 2.8 year old who likes to hang out in the playground, I don’t like camp. I don’t like the way that large groups of unruly camp kids descend on the playground like a plague of locusts with no regard for the resident toddler population. They scream, they run and they dominate. Time it right and you’ll miss them: they arrive in the mid morning and by midday are gone, some reappear later in the afternoon, but you can get some respite.

As a mother of an 8.5 year old I like camp. I like that she can do some new stuff with new kids in a new environment. E has been to camp out of the city, where they swam and did sport and art and had fun. She’s been to art camp at a major gallery working with staff who loved art and learning so much E came home bursting with enthusiasm and ended up showing me around the gallery. By the end of the summer she’ll have been one of the kids I trip over in Central Park and have spent time with professional cartoonists learning to hone her craft.

The downside about camp is the cost. My god it is expensive and ranges from $350 to $1000 a week. Many campers will spend 8 weeks at camp, which is prohibitively expensive, especially if you have more than one kid. But if you compare it with the cost of a nanny, who don’t usually look after older kids much anyway, it’s cheaper, but not much.

You have to accept that your kid will come home filthy, ruin their clothes and pick up new and mostly unpleasant habits from their new friends. They will be looked after by people not that much older than them – some look as young as 16 and this seems to be OK here. I am still not keen on this side of it.

But, as part of the overall NY experience, I wouldn’t have wanted E to miss any of it. Next summer we will be home and it will be 6 weeks in the UK and it will probably rain. A lot.

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Zombie moms

It is super hot in New York at the moment. Tuesday was the worst at 32 degrees. And it’s humid. And I’m wilting. I hang around in the playground in shorts, which is quite frankly a miracle for me. But it is unbearable to wear trousers, so I have accepted my legs and embraced them in their coolness.

At around 4pm on this hot, humid, clammy day the moms (that’s only because I’m talking about the US, not because I have gone native; far from it) started to appear out of nowhere. Now when I got to the park it was pretty empty, all the camp kids were elsewhere, the toddlers napping and everyone else more sensible in air conditioning somewhere. So this sudden slow emergence of women pushing buggies and forming a strange semi circle seemed a bit to Stepford Wives for me. They even started putting down picnic blankets on the hard concrete floor, which seemed odd to me.

Luckily my good British friend G was on hand to advise. Apparently the parks had advertised a bit of a sing song at 4pm and it was for all the moms and their babes. After a shaky start the singer started doing her thing and it was not good. I couldn’t hear her well, the amp wasn’t very powerful and quite frankly her stage presence, along with her dress sense, was distinctly lacking. Sorry parks, nice try, but I swiftly left the zombie moms and scarpered back to the air conditioning, stroppy sweaty toddler in tow – he seemed to quite like it. Must work on that one.

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1000 steps to Queens

That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. I bravely ventured out with J and E to the New York Hall of Science. This rather grandly named attraction is based way out in the Flushing Meadows area of Queens. Practically at the end of the 7 train line, this is a world away from our part of Manhattan. And when you are doing this with a heavy toddler in a buggy in the hot, humid weather of NYC it’s hard work. Not one person helped with the steps all the way there and there are a lot.

The Hall of Science is based in a converted 1960s building that was originally built as a pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s a great hands on space for young kids to learn about science and has an excellent playground, which is great for 7 year olds and hopeless for toddlers. Just hope they are asleep so they don’t get jealous.

Next door to the Hall of Science is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, an oasis of greenery and calm in the heart of Queens and home to the Queens Zoo, sister to its more famous sibling in Central Park. It’s lovely. Small, but lovely with a rather impressive elk with the biggest antlers I’ve ever seen. There’s an old fashioned carousel and a petting zoo with some very friendly goats who love to be stroked. And in the middle is the most peculiar building called Terrace on the Park.

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I have just looked at the website for it and it appears to be much flasher in its Internet form than in real life. From the outside it looks really run down, a bit unloved and frankly a bit of a concrete monster. It completely dominates the park, looming over the zoo. Not sure I’d fancy getting married there, but I suppose the views must be good.

Oh, and on the way back I managed to look pathetic enough to get help with the buggy up all those blasted stairs all the way home. Just don’t be on the subway past 4.30 in the afternoon as it’s as packed as the London underground and deeply unpleasant.

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Do your kids eat sushi?

Mine don’t. I was amazed to see a babysitter giving some kids sushi as a snack at the playground next to the Met on Fifth Avenue earlier today. And they ate it without complaint.  Mind you it was from the food hall of the gods, Dean and Deluca, so that might explain it. That’s the Upper East Side of New York for you – the Fifth Avenue side anyway. We had pizza on the way home instead, from the wonderful Two Boots. Much more normal.

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Someone left the heating on

That’s exactly how it feels in New York right now. You are in a nice, cool air conditioned building and then you walk outside and hot air hits you. It’s quite disconcerting to go from the cold inside to the hot outside. And disorientating when you are walking along the hot pavements and you get hit by cool blasts from air conditioning vents. What’s worse is that it doesn’t cool down. It’s late at night and still warm enough just to wear a t shirt.

I was in the Central Park on Friday. Our first experience of sprinklers. When I was a kid, a sprinkler was the small device your dad used to water the lawn on the odd day it seemed a bit warm. I can remember running in and out of the spray of water as it moved from one side to the other. Here sprinklers appear in the playgrounds for the kids to run in and out of and keep cool. J loves his first experience, running into the water and then squealing with slight shock and real delight when the blast of cold water hits his face. He is resplendent in his water gear and enjoys every moment. It will be a theme for the summer.

By lunchtime on Friday I was gratified to see that few people were crazy enough to be running in 30+ degree heat. At 730 on Saturday morning I go for a run in Central Park because I think it will be cooler and I am very wrong. It is hot. The temperature has not dipped below 23 degrees. Too hot for running and I have to keep stopping to prevent myself from over heating. It brings out a lot of early runners and a lot of barely clad people. Men in skimpy shorts and no tops; women in shorts and even shorter tank tops showing rippling bellies and many bosoms that need more control.

By 8am people, mostly men, are playing baseball in regulation coloured t shirts tucked into cream coloured trousers and looking deadly serious in baseball caps. The little leaguers are still asleep but will emerge soon to look like cute versions of these committed sportsmen. The park looks fabulous, lush and green with its canopies of trees giving grateful shelter to mediocre runners like me. Too early for tourists but early enough for random groups of people to be hanging around. Some are getting ready to marshal a race in the park but with others I have no idea what connects them together so early in the park. Maybe it’s just the heat forcing them outside: air conditioning is a luxury in NYC.

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Where have all the mothers gone?

Well, they’re not in the playground, that’s for sure. It is unusual to find any mothers looking after their kids full time during the week. Maternity leave is so bad here that to get three months off is seen as good! And after that, they all go back to work and hand the kids over to the nanny. The playgrounds are full of nannies from all over the world. I stand out like a sore thumb. I am probably the only mother in our local playground. Gaggles of nannies congregate to chat and watch over their charges, when they can rip themselves away from their phones. Giving a child any attention seems to also be a luxury as phones lure nannies from actually playing with the children they look after. There’s no shortage of people, mostly women, looking for nanny jobs. I spoke to one mother who had sacked her nanny on the spot for the way she treated her child and within a week another appeared. I advertised for a one day a week ‘babysitter’, a common term here, to look after J now and then and I was overwhelmed with responses from one of the many sitter web sites, mostly students looking for a bit of extra cash. And whilst the mothers are all riding the subway to work , J and I just trundle along to the park in the sunshine and play in the sandpit. Not sure who’s got the best deal there.